A forum on the word “queer” will be held at Cal State Long Beach (CSULB), a word that has driven a division between an older generation which had the word used against them and a younger generation which has appropriated the word for a stronger grasp on their own identity.

Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 8.28.13 AMIt is precisely this contention that Phillip Zonkel—whose Press-Telegram LGBT blog Out in the 562 sponsored the forum, along with The Center—wishes to explore after approaching Dr. Jennifer Reed of CSULB’s Department of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies.

“I wanted to start a series of discussions on LGBT topics that is really just an engagement with the community,” Zonkel said. “Whether they be specific news-based topics or larger, grander things, I feel it’s important to engage them. And the word ‘queer’ is not just provocative but timely: it’s being used more and more.”

The more current—and what would largely be considered “positive”—use of the term queer evolved from queer studies, an academic segment under the umbrella of sexuality studies. Queer studies (or what some call queer thoery) was largely created by influential influential LGBT or LGBT-oriented philosophers and thinkers such as Michel Foucault, Judith Butler and Eve Sedgwick. The main thrust of queer studies was to simply provide a “queering” of research that opened up—on record—alternative analyses of everything from literature to news in a way that has been largely excluded from the heteronormative historical canon.

In other words, it is bigger than just “gay” or “lesbian” and instead, accounts for anything outside the range of heternormativity, or those ideas and perceptions that continually revolve around straight identities and behaviors.

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As these theories and discussions began to reorganize academia in the late 80s, the new scholars and those who had communicated with them were taking the word to the street, pushing forth a sociopolitical connotation that rejected traditional gender and sexual identities—even including gay, lesbian and bisexual since they are in and of themselves “distinct” and lack fluidity.

“I think the word is provocative in many ways,” Zonkel said. “‘Queer,’ for any in the community, has an almost violent, aggressive connotation to it—much like the word ‘faggot’ is today. Other people who are much younger don’t have that connotation—or maybe they do and they choose not to adhere to it and redefine it.”

The appropriation of derogatory words has never been a smooth endeavor by any group, with the the use of the n-word still driving political and social discussions across the country. LGBT writer Dan Savage has attempted throughout his career to appropriate the word “faggot” but has yet to solidify a cohort of followers behind him. And most recently, bisexual rapper Azealia Banks controversially defended—over Twitter no less—her pervasive use of the word “faggot,” even asking fans to tweet back their own definitions of the term.

“Queer” is no different.

“There hasn’t been a clear discussion of this word and what its definition means,” Zonkel said. “Can a word be appropriated to develop a stronger sense of identity? Yes. How? Well, that’s a different question.”

The free forum is open to the public and will be held on Saturday, September 14, from 2PM to 4PM at Lecture Hall 150 near the LA Buildings at Long Beach State. 

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